UNITED NATIONS: The UN chief said foreign fighters and mercenaries remain in Libya in violation of last October’s ceasefire agreement and called for their withdrawal and an end to violations of the UN arms embargo, saying these are critical elements for lasting peace in the north African country and the region.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in a report to the UN Security Council that the smooth transfer of power to a new interim government, which took power in March, brings renewed hope for the reunification of the country and its institutions and for a lasting peace.

But he said progress must continue on the political, economic and security tracks to enable elections to go ahead on Dec 24.

Libya has been wracked by chaos since a Nato-backed uprising toppled longtime dictator Moammar Qadhafi in 2011, and split the oil-rich North African country between a UN-supported government in the capital, Tripoli, and rival authorities based in the country’s east, each backed by armed groups and foreign governments.

In April 2019, east-based commander Khalifa Hifter and his forces, backed by Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, launched an offensive to try and capture Tripoli. His 14-month-long campaign collapsed after Turkey stepped up its military support of the UN-backed government with hundreds of troops and thousands of Syrian mercenaries. An October ceasefire agreement that included a demand for all foreign fighters and mercenaries leave Libya within 90 days led to a deal on the transitional government and December elections.

The UN estimated in December that there were at least 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Russians, Sudanese and Chadians. But at an informal council meeting in late April, speakers said there were more than 20,000, including 13,000 Syrians and 11,000 Sudanese, according to diplomats.

Guterres said in the new report that while the ceasefire continues to hold, the UN political mission in Libya has received reports of fortifications and defensive positions being set up in central Libya on the key route between the strategic city of Sirte, the gateway to the country’s major oil fields and export terminals, and Jufra.

Despite the commitments made by the parties, air cargo activities reportedly continued with flights to various air bases in Libya’s western and eastern regions, the secretary general said. Reports indicated that there was no reduction of foreign fighters or of their activities in central Libya.

Guterres said the government of national unity must prioritise security sector reform including filling senior civilian and military appointments, producing a roadmap for reunifying the Libyan army, and addressing the proliferation of armed groups.

Bringing one of the worlds largest uncontrolled stocks of arms and ammunition under state control is vital, he said. I reiterate my call on member states and Libyan national actors to put an end to violations of the arms embargo and to facilitate the withdrawal of foreign fighters and mercenaries from the country.

Last month, the Security Council approved a resolution urging all foreign forces and mercenaries to leave Libya and authorizing a small UN team to monitor the ceasefire agreement. In an April 7 letter to the council, Guterres proposed an initial maximum of 60 monitors for a phased deployment as part of the UN mission, known as UNSMIL.

In his new report, Guterres said that the monitors deployment to Libya is contingent on the UN General Assembly approving the resources to cover security, logistical, medical and operational requirements, which will be submitted in the near future.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2021

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